The Governor of Edo state and the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, are at loggerheads over who takes custody of the expected return of stolen Benin artifacts The Monarch in a bid to avoid hijacking of the artefacts, has asked the federal government to take custody of the stolen Benin artefacts after they are repatriated.
It would be recalled that the German government has promised to return the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria in 2022.
The artifacts were stolen in1897 in the Benin kingdom, which was well-known for its rich cultural heritage and artefacts, after the city was invaded by British soldiers, in what is now known as the Benin invasion of 1897.
Thousands of bronze castings and other cultural artefacts were destroyed while some were carted away.
On Thursday, the federal government disclosed that Monica Grutters, German minister of state for culture, said the country is ready to make a “substantial return” of the 1,130 looted artefacts from the beginning of 2022.
Addressing a press conference on Friday, the Oba of Benin, said the stolen bronzes are not the property of the Edo state government but that of the Benin kingdom.
The Benin monarch said the “only legitimate destination for the artefacts” is under the Benin royal museum which will be sited within the vicinity of the Oba of Benin’s palace.
“I have called this meeting today to intimate you of the matter of the Benin artefacts in Europe on the verge of being repatriated, which I am sure you have heard and read about in recent weeks,” the Oba of Benin said.
“You may also have heard about the recent activities of a group of individuals who incorporated a company since January 2020 called Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.
“It has become germane to note that the advocacy and demands for the return of the artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897 have been going on for decades before the emergence of the incumbent Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki. I must sincerely thank the governor for joining the struggle and showing commitment to retrieve our stolen cultural heritage from Europe.
“While anticipating the return of the looted artefacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artefacts is not in the interest of the people of Benin Kingdom, to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership.
“The looted artefacts awaiting repatriation from Europe are the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom created by our ancestors and forefathers within the traditional norms and rites of the kingdom.
“They are not property of the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin Kingdom. The right and only legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated as already pronounced by my father is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precincts of the Palace of the Oba of Benin, from where they were looted, and also, the proper traditional institution that is also the custodian of all the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom.
“We wish to use this medium to call on the Federal Government to take custody of these artefacts on behalf of the palace until the Benin Royal Museum is ready for their collection. Under no circumstances should the custody of our age-old artefacts be handed to any privately contrived entity like Legacy Restoration Trust.”
Also on Friday, Godwin Obaseki, the state governor, in a statement, was quoted to have said that it has concluded arrangement with the royal palace and federal government on the return of the bronzes, adding that “a “transformational museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, said a “transformational” museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city,” the statement reads.
“The governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo state.”